by Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito, Bishop of Palm Beach
Independence Day is the foundational celebration of our great nation. On July 4 we celebrate that we possess the great gift of freedom as was decreed by the Declaration of Independence. This document proclaims that, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” These words certainly are a reflection of the good news of Christ and the basis of our faith in God. The Declaration of Independence is a reformulation of the “Gospel of Independence.”
Life is a fundamental right. It is a gift from God which comes into existence from the moment of conception. Christ’s very words affirm the goodness of life as well as His coming to us so that we might live life to the fullest. He tells us clearly, “I have come in order that they may have life, and have it to the full” (Jn 10:10). Our faith is one in the goodness of life which God bestows upon us and is meant to be lived into eternity. God did not give us life in order that it might be a burden but that it might be lived to the fullest.
It is essential that we affirm the right to life of every person made in the image and likeness of God. We are grateful that the Supreme Court has overturned its tragic mistake in Roe v. Wade which made abortion a constitutional right. We must continue to do all we can so that abortion will not be legal in any state with in our nation and to offer every assistance to women in difficult situations in terms of the support and guidance we can offer. The culture which permits abortion is one that leads to the rationalization that the life of any person is not a fundamental right and that it can be taken away according to circumstances. We certainly see this in the arguments for physician assisted suicide. Our faith is one in the goodness of life regardless of the circumstances that surround it. Life is good and life is joyful precisely because all people are created equal. Independence Day offers us the opportunity to celebrate the right to life of every human person as understood by the Declaration of Independence.
Liberty is a fundamental right. God’s creation of us in his image and likeness means that we possess the gift of freedom as God Himself is free. It was precisely the misuse of this great gift that led to the original sin which is the source of all evil within our world. However, the gift of liberty is so fundamental that God created us as free even though freedom could be misused. Freedom is not the ability to do whatever one wants. Freedom is the ability to choose the good and to live accordingly. This reality is so succinctly stated in the Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World from the Second Vatican Council. It states, “It is, however, only in freedom that man can turn himself to what is good. The people of our time prize freedom very highly and strive eagerly for it. In this they are right. Yet they often cherish it improperly, as if it gave them leave to do anything they like, even when it is evil. But that which is truly freedom is an exceptional sign of the image of God in man” (n. 17).
Jesus affirmed the foundation of freedom when he taught, “The truth will set you free” (Jn 8:31). To live in truth is fundamental to being truly free. That which hinders the truth also hinders freedom. One of the errors of our society today is a belief in a truth that is relative. It is a truth that changes with the times and especially makes moral absolutes relative. Such relativism does not set free but enslaves us to popular belief and hinders the liberty which God has given to us as an absolute right.
Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, continually reminds us of the dangers of relativism that are prevalent in our culture today. He calls us to the truth which only can be found in Christ. In the fall of this past year, Pope Francis gave a series of Wednesday audiences on the nature of freedom as found in the letter of St. Paul to the Galatians. He emphasized: “Freedom is not doing what you want or what you feel like. This type of freedom, without a goal and without points of reference, would be an empty freedom, a freedom of the circus: it is not good. And indeed, it leaves emptiness within: how often, after following instinct alone, do we realize that we are left with a great emptiness inside and that we have used badly the treasure of our freedom, the beauty of being able to choose true goodness for ourselves and for others. Only this freedom is complete, concrete, and inserts us into real everyday life. True freedom always frees us, whereas when we exercise that freedom of ‘what we like and do not like,’ we remain empty, in the end.”
The pursuit of happiness is also a fundamental Gospel right. Again, the Lord taught us that he came to us in order that we might live life to the fullest. God created us to be happy and the Lord became one of us to show us the way to happiness. Indeed, the entire Gospel is meant to bring us happiness as Jesus tells us, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete” (Jn 15:11). The truth makes us free and it also makes us happy. In Christ we find that truth and we find our happiness. In a world where happiness seems to be so much sought after as a fundamental right, it is unfortunate that true happiness many times cannot be found. It is sought after in the wrong places. The lack of true joy brings an emptiness no matter how many other good things may try to fill the void. The Gospel of Christ brings us that joy. The “Gospel of Independence” is the way to true joy and the only “Gospel of Joy.”
We live in a great nation founded on fundamental truths. These truths are absolute and not relative. They reflect the inalienable right given to us by God to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The words of the Declaration of Independence truly reflect the “Gospel of Independence” given to us by Christ. It is unfortunate that our society in many ways has wandered from the truths and principles upon which our nation was founded. May our love for the Gospel encourage us to a greater love for our nation founded on Gospel truths. May we never be afraid to proclaim the truth as Christ has given it to us and as it was understood by our founding fathers. In this is true life, liberty, and happiness.
A Blessed Independence Day to all and may we truly celebrate the freedom of our great nation as understood in the Declaration of Independence!
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
July 1, 2022